Archive for October 2011
When I was just a wee lad, my grandparents had a caravan at Clarach Bay on the Cardigan Bay coast in mid-Wales. I spent huge chunks of my childhood holidays there and I got to know every part of the beach, every cave, the best places to go crabbing, best places to swim, best places for chestnuts and conkers in the woods. The caravan was only a few strides from the beach. I have some great memories and I was such a lucky lad to get to spend so much time there.
Sadly as my grandparents grew older they had to give up the caravan. Last year however my parents got their own slice of caravan heaven back at Clarach Bay so a new generation of the family are now enjoying the privilege of their own home by the sea that we can visit whenever we can. I’m really pleased that my mom and dad are really making use of it in their later years and spend weeks at a time down there. My dad in particular still hasn’t worked out that his retirement years are for relaxing and taking it easy. When he’s at home he’s always dashing about but down there he can truly relax – it’s a weight off the minds of all the family
So after our mammoth trip to France we needed a take it easy weekend to wind down so we joined my mom and dad for a quiet weekend there. We did nothing dramatic other than potter on the beach, dig around for crabs and had a happy time chucking stones at the riverbank to make it collapse.
Me ad D on Clarach Beach
Fun with Pebbles
Give me some beach pebbles and something to throw them at I’m like a pig in muck.
Taking it WAY too seriously - again!
We also took a walk along the coast towards Borth above the low cliffs, another of my favourites from years gone by.
View south across Cardigan Bay
View North towards Borth and southern Snowdonia
It was pretty windy while we were there so we took a trip into the nearby town of Aberystwyth to watch the waves.
Time your run!
They were huge although not bouncing against the sea walls and throwing spray over anyone dumb enough not to be paying attention. This was a favoured activity when I was a kid, hanging over the rails and then running like hell when a wave hit to avoid a soaking. They were fine times.
L and my Mom and Dad taking risks
Aberystwyth has a fine promenade and we walked from one end to the other and back watching the waves
L and Aberystwyth seafront
The kids had a fine time being chased up the beach by the waves
Running the waves
Afterwards me and D walked back to the caravan over Constitution Hill with its cliff railway. It’s a great route with some quality views back over the town and along the coast.
Aberystwyth from Constitution Hill
Clarach Bay from Constitution Hill
It’s always funny to think back on how these walks used to be so much longer and the cliffs so much higher when I was a kid. Walking to Aber (as we used to call it) was a major undertaking yet today we walked back in less than an hour. On a clear day you can see Cadair Idris, Snowdon and the hills of the Lleyn Peninsula including the little Carn Fadryn that you may remember we climbed in the summer.
Jane and the kids are down there at the moment so expect more Clarach Bay posts coming soon. For now hope you enjoyed the photos and my childhood recollections
Now that I’ve finally finished my French Odyssey, I’ve realised that I’m still way behind on my posts since I got back. Lots to catch up on so as a bit of taster for what’s come………………..
COMING SOON TO A BLOG NEAR YOU!
Beach plonking with my kids on the Welsh coast
Ghyll Scrambling and Helm Crag Walk on the “adults only weekend”
Skiving off work in the early autumn heatwave
Wandering the valley’s of the Long Mynd
Dawdling in the rain in Silverdale
The summits of the Black Mountains
Strolling the local common at Ewyas Harold
Squelching up to Plynlimon
After our hugely enjoyable 2 days in Chamonix walking the Grand Balcons and climbing the Croix de Fer, we headed off to our next and final holiday destination in the Jura mountains. They are an extensive area of small mountains, ridges and valleys along the French/Swiss border north of Lake Geneva. We only had a day there before we started to head home in earnest and as always I was determined to make the most of it. It’s a massive area with loads to see and do but I wanted to explore the long limestone ridge that overlooks Lake Geneva and had chosen a hotel not far from there. We stopped of on our way from Chamonix for a cuppa by the car at the Col de la Faucille.
The views back across the Lake to the alps were superb. From here, Mont Blanc really shows its massive bulk and height dominating everything else around it.
Mont Blanc from the Col de la Faucille
To the north the Jura spread out as an extensive rolling pasture dotted with lakes, bisected by deep valleys and gorges. I would guess that the walking would be simple and rewarding and much quieter than the alps.
Val de Valserine
Our hotel was another Logis at the Hotel le Pre Filet, a charming out-of-the-way hotel amongst the pastures with huge 2 storey family bedroom.
Hotel le Pre Filet
Only problem was the restaurant was shall we say a little out of our league with not much in the way kids food. We had no food in the car and the hotel was the only place for miles so we headed into the nearest town St Claude to find a pizza place or similar. Alas it seemed Monday was restaurant night off and the whole town was closed and I had two hungry kids in the back. Salvation was found in the form of a kebab van in the main square and a feast of chips and Steak Americain in the car was the order of the day. I salute the kebab van man!
Next morning was clear and gloriously sunny for our final day.
View from the hotel
The hotel put on a cracking breakfast that included what looked like hard-boiled eggs – except the egg boiler was tucked away in a corner out of sight. As Viz would say “Imagine my surprise when I cracked a raw egg onto D’s plate”. Luckily we all did see the funny side and I did notice a couple of other discarded plates with semi-cracked raw eggs on them – live and learn.
I purchased a map and we headed back up to the Col de la Faucille. The Grand Montrond looked like a nice short walk so we headed off following a mix of ski trails, roads and paths up towards the ridge of the Monts Jura. It was a stunning morning, clear skies with views for miles into the heart of the Jura.
Across the Jura
The ridge was dipping in and out of the clouds so I was hopeful we might get a decent view. After passing some lovely pastures full of wild flowers and a couple of very scabby donkeys we made our way to the summit
Name that flower
It was one of those “wow” moments that take your breath away. You get no idea of the view to come until you crest the summit. Laid out below your feet is Lake Geneva with the Alps spread out behind as far as the eye can see.
D, Lake Geneva and the Alps
Mont Blanc again dominates the skyline.
The wispy cloud made it all the more atmospheric. It was quite simply one of the best views I’ve had in the mountains. To cap it off sitting in the far distance between the points of a nearer peak was the Matterhorn. Awesome
Matterhorn distant in the centre of the shot
We stopped on the summit for a couple of hours, eating lunch and admiring the views.
Lunch on the summit
I took a short stroll along the ridge and it would be a superb long walk right from end to end, a distance of about 16 miles or so.
Crete de Neige
All too soon it was time to head back down. Our holiday was coming to a close but this was a fitting finale. Another place to add to my ever-growing list of places to return to.
And that was pretty much that. We got back in the car and started the long drive home. It took us a day to get back from the Jura via an overnight at a B&B hotel in Troyes, the Eurotunnel and the Harvester in Swindon.
It was an absolutely fabulous holiday. I have to give up a good chunk of my annual leave to do a 3 week holiday which means I have to sacrifice some skiing trips, backpacking trips and the like. However I get plenty of payback from spending some real quality time with Jane and the kids doing the things we all enjoy and the whole family love the places we go and way we do the trip. France is a fabulous place for a holiday with so much to see and do and something for every taste and inclination. We are already planning next years trip, where to base ourselves for a couple of weeks, where to stop off and what do, favourite at the moment is Roussillon down by the French/Spanish border on the Med. Might be able to get some walking in, in the Pyrenees which would be awesome.
So to finish off my top 5 memories from the trip
5. Any of our meals outside our Provence holiday home
4. Kayaking in the Tarn Gorges
3. Grand Montrond, Jura
2. Any of a number of lazy days by the pool
1. Picnic lunch on the Grand Balcon Chamonix
Hope you enjoyed the ride
After our fabulous walk the previous day we were hungry for more. My Cicerone guide had a walk above La Tour around the Col de Balme that took in 3 small summits and I could use the uplift to gain the height. Plan formulated we set off on another clear sunny day with just a few wisps of cloud and a strong breeze. This time the trip on the upper chairlift was slightly chillier but the kids still enjoyed it.
Chairlift with Aiguilles Rouges behind
Time to get off
Once up at the top the views were again stunning and we could clearly see our route for the day, up to the craggy Croix de Fer and back over the Tete de Balme and a smaller un-named grassy hill.
D, Tete de Balme and Cros de Fer
There were only a few people about, some walkers, a few climbers on their way to higher routes and mountain-bikers using the lifts to access the steep downhill routes now a major alpine activity.
Aiguilles Rouges and Mont Buet
We walked across to the Col de Balme where the route enters Switzerland.
Aiguille Verte and Mont Blanc
The kids found the idea of standing with both feet in two different countries highly amusing but I suppose the idea of walking from one country to another was a novel one for them
Straddling the border
We continued on a steady climb up to the col between the Croix de Fer and the Tete de Balme, all the while the views back along the Chamonix valley to Mont Blanc and across to the Aiguille Rouge and Mont Buet (another one of my successful summits) were stupendous.
Climbing to the col
As we reached the col we also got a view of the Lac de Emosson and its huge dam. Not an area I’ve visited but it looks superb and my guidebook had lots of walking routes in there.
Lac de Emosson
We set off along the narrow grassy ridge towards the Croix de Fer, pleased that we were the only people about.
D on the ridge to the Croix de Fer
Pretty soon it was clear that L was a little nervous so she and Jane returned to the col while D and I carried on to the summit. It’s quite narrow and rocky in places but so long as you have a decent head for heights very straightforward (although in wet weather or snow it would be a different proposition.
Route of ascent
D was well chuffed that he had climbed an alpine peak albeit a small one but the views all around and over into the Rhone valley in Switzerland were breathtaking. Alas I had a grubby fingerprint on the camera lens so the photos are not as good as I’d like – one of the downfalls of my Panasonic FT3 and its lack of a lens cover
D enjoys his first alpine summit
Satisfied we rejoined Jane and L and walked over the easy grassy slopes of the Tete de Balme and it’s un-named neighbour.
Croix de Fer
Summit of Tete de Balme
The views back across to Mont Blanc from here were particularly grand.
Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley
We were on the look-out for a decent picnic stop but the wind had picked up through the day and it was pretty cold. We spied a small tarn below us and headed down, managing to find a sheltered spot. Had it been warmer I’d have been tempted for a swim as the water looked clear and inviting.
Fancy a swim?
Time to head back though and we retraced our steps and back around to the Col de Balme and the chairlift down, still marvelling at the views and for me as always very reluctant to head down.
Jane and L, Aiguille Rouge behind
It was incredibly windy on the chairlift and we were glad to reach the warm shelter of the gondola on the lower stage.
Hold on tight!
Our time in Chamonix was over. We had an absolutely stunning couple of days but I felt flat as we got back into the car. I wanted more. I could have walked for days in this area and the possibilities are endless. I’ll be back, but we still had one final day to enjoy and we headed off for the Jura mountains for the last proper day of our holiday
So our Provence adventures were over. After a fond and sad farewell to Francis and Laura at our home from home in Cotignac we set of for the first leg of our journey home. We were heading for Chamonix in the French Alps, a long all day drive of around 5 hours but a scenic one through the pre-alps mountains. Most noticeable thing on the journey was the temperature. From 37 degrees the previous day in Provence it dropped steadily as we drove north to a chilly 12 degrees when we stopped for a in-car feed at the Col de Grimone.
Col de Grimone
As we approached the Alps all the summits were swathed in cloud but I had high hopes that the weather was clearing. We arrived in Chamonix and checked into our hotel for the next couple of nights, the Hotel Excelsior one of the Logis de France chain. We headed into Chamonix for a meal and it was chaos, thousands of people everywhere and nowhere to park. Clearly there was some sort of event on which turned out to be the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc. Basically it’s a fell race around the Tour de Mont Blanc long distance walk route. Jane has done this many years ago and it takes the average walker 10 days or so. These people were running it non-stop in between 26 and 48 hours. As we watched the finishers come in it was hard not to get wrapped up in the event and we cheered and clapped the finishers of the main event and some of the other events like a multi-day fell race that looked suicidally tough.
The skies looked to be clearing as we returned to our hotel so we went to bed fingers crossed for a decent day in the Alps the following day
Alpine mountaineering is where my heart is. In my younger days a summer holiday meant 2 weeks camping in an alpine village with a combination of walking and climbing high alpine mountains. I loved it. There is no greater feeling for me than standing on top of an alpine summit under a deep blue sky, with snow-capped peaks stretching away as far as the eye can see or sitting at a high alpine bivvy site surrounded by mountains and watching the sunset or sunrise. There is nothing like an alpine sunrise or sunset – it’s a time for silent reflection and just wonder at how awesome the natural world is. If I had the time I’d love to share some of those experiences through my blog. Perhaps one day I may scan my photos from those days and relive some memories, for now lets move on to a new one.
I woke early, too excited to sleep and peeped from behind the curtains. It was cloudless! D was awake and we went straight outside for a look. It was chilly but the sun was lighting up Mont Blanc as we wandered by the pool and we both couldn’t wait to get up high.
Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc from the hotel
It was clearly going to be storming day. I’d chosen a route to make use of the cable cars and chair lifts (expensive but worth it) so we could make the most of the day up in the sunshine. We took the cable car from Les Praz to La Flegere and then the chair-lift up to L’Index for a walk across to Lac Blanc and then back along the Grand Balcon Sud to Planpraz and back down to Chamonix. The kids love the lifts, like a fairground ride, especially the chairlifts (as a skier the novelty has worn off for me!).
Chairlift to L'Index
As we stepped off the chairlift at L’Index the view was quite simply breathtaking.
D, L and Mont Blanc
Aiguille Verte & Mer de Glace
Aiguille du Tour, Aiguille d'Argentiere, Aiguille de Chardonnet
The sky was deep blue and cloudless and in front of us the whole spread of the Chamonix alps, Mont Blanc, the Chamonix Aiguilles, the Grand Jorasses, Aiguille Verte and much more. Behind us the towering rock peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges. It was warm and perfect for walking but we sat and gazed at the peaks in absolute wonder. It was the perfect day. Spending a couple of days in the mountains was a gamble and I thanked whatever gods were smiling on me for our good fortune. I pointed out Mont Blanc du Tacul, my highest Alpine summit and the Aiguille du Tour smaller but one of my favourite ascents. I could sit and look at these views all day and I still gaze at my photos longingly. D loves walking but L is not so keen so I do feel a little frustrated that a family holiday in the alps isn’t really an option just now. What the view was telling me is that however I do it I need to get back and soon.
Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Aiguilles
The walk across to Lac Blanc takes you across typical alpine terrain of boulders, scree and rock but it’s a good path and easy to follow.
D & L on the path to Lac Blanc
Today it was a day to take it easy and admire the scenery and the kids enjoyed the rocky scrambly parts.
Jane, L and D, Aiguilles Rouges in the background
Grandes Jorasses & Mer de Glace
Eventually the path meets the main one coming up from La Flegere and it was seriously busy. L wasn’t really enjoying the walking part so me and D headed up to Lac Blanc to take look leaving Jane and L with instructions to find us a decent stop for a picnic lunch. They did better than that and found the perfect spot on a shelf just off the path with a large flat boulder to laze on.
Lunch in the mountains
I had thought that Lac Blanc would be a good place to stop but it was crowded and noisy. Sitting in the warm sun, surrounded by snow-capped peaks stuffing my face with fresh bread, cheese and fruit I couldn’t have been happier. When I think back to the whole 3 weeks in France, THIS was my moment.
Life is good
Reluctantly we had to move on as we still had a few miles to walk to reach Planpraz for the last lift down to the valley. L was moving really slowly so I had to carry her a few times. The Grand Balcon Sud is a sensational walk, traversing across the NW slopes of the Chamonix valley. Walking this direction (NE to SW) you have Mont Blanc in front of you all the way. As you pass La Flegere and start to head across towards Planpraz, it dips in and out of the trees creating some glorious vistas and situations.
D on the Grand Balcon Sud
Jane and L, Aiguille Verte behind
High above the Chamonix valley
We stopped about a third of the way along for an afternoon snack and it became clear that L wasn’t going to make it across to Planpraz in time for the last lift.
L and the Aiguille Verte
We decided to split up so Jane and D could enjoy the rest of the walk and me and L strolled back to La Flegere.
L on the Grand Balcon Sud
It was with great reluctance that we headed back down to Les Praz although we had a pleasant sit in the sunny park near the church before we headed off to collect Jane and D.
So how to finish off the perfect day? Back to the hotel for a swim in the outdoor pool under the gaze of snow-capped peaks.
Hotel Excelsior and Pool
Perfect day? This one works for me!
Whilst on our day trips to the Verdon Gorge, I’d harboured an idea to get a decent walk on the mountains and ridges that rise above it. I had a walking guide with some excellent routes in it that sounded ok for a half a day. Downside was that I’d have to start at sunrise and be finished by late morning before the heat killed me. On several days I’d thought “tomorrow is the day” but after a an evening consuming chilled Rose wine and a few beers the idea of getting up at 5am no longer appealed. However as our last day approached before the journey home I decided I had to go for it.
The day started with a splendid sight. The local woodland is populated with wild boar but they are pretty secretive so I was thrilled that as I pulled away from the house in the pitch black at 5:30am I sensed some movement in the fields and then a large wild boar trotted across the track about 2 feet in front of the car pausing briefly to look at me with a kind of “what the feck are you staring at” look before he headed off into the darkness. It had been worth getting up early just for that so it was with renewed enthusiasm that I set off.
I’d chosen a walk to the south of the gorge, climbing the ridge of the Grand Marges before descending to the road and walking back along one of the high level traverse paths back to the car. When I arrived at the car park at the Illoire pass at 6am I faced a couple of unexpected problems. First it was still dark, second there was a gale force wind blowing. I felt slightly unsettled sitting in the car on my own, paths in France aren’t always as well-marked as you’d like them to be and I was on my own. Still, what’s the worst that can happen I thought so I set off to my next problem.
The main path up the Marges ridge is a GR route that I was hoping was well-defined and signed. Trouble is, it lay a few hundred metres through the woods from my car although there was a path marked on the map. I set off on what I thought was the path which promptly ceased in middle of some rather thick and exceptionally prickly maquis scrub. B*llocks! And so passed an interesting 20 minutes of scrabbling about in the undergrowth by the light of my phone trying to follow a series of pathetically weak paths issuing forth a whole range of colourful metaphors about french paths, map-makers and anyone else who I felt deserved some of that. Eventually I emerged scratched and a little temperamental (I’m not a good morning person) into a clearing at the far side of which was a cairn marking the junction of my GR path to the top and the broad path I should have been on in the first place but singularly failed to find. Bloody french map-makers.
At least it would be plain sailing from here (fat chance – more later). I climbed quickly keen to get clear of the trees and watch the sunrise.
Lower gorge and Lac de Sainte Croix
The weather wasn’t as clear as the past week but the clouds gave it a majestic feel. As soon as I was in the open I sat down on the cliff edge with my feet dangling over a precipice and soaked up the atmosphere.
The sun rises
It was truly magnificent and after a few seconds my bad mood of earlier was replaced with the calm reflection of a day solo in the mountains. I looked at the gorge and the lake.
Lac de Sainte Croix
I looked at distant summits wondering if they had routes. I planned other walks in the gorge. I thought about Jane and how she would enjoy this spot. I watched the sun start to appear changing the landscape subtly, dramatically as it did. Mostly I just wondered about the majesty of this part of France and that I had it all to myself for now. I was back in touch with the mountains
From then on I simply soared up the ridge, sometimes following the path, sometimes trying to stick the edge to get the feeling of height above the gorge.
Lower gorge and the corniche sublime road
At the Clot de la Glaciere there is a stupendous lookout point over the lower gorge and high meadow that would be a perfect wild campsite if there were only some water nearby. I cruised up to the summit of the Grand Marges ridge at 1577m just as the sun broke from the clouds and had the most stunning peaceful outdoor breakfast I can remember. Life was pretty good just then.
Grand Marges summit
Upper gorge and limitless peaks
Lac de Sainte Croix
It was time to move on, the sun was getting higher and the temperature rising rapidly. The path twists and turns down to La Colle with the vast expanse of the army ranges at La Canjouers to the south. They really don’t want you straying in there with warning signs every hundred yards or so. Other than that it was a pleasant and steady descent through the scrub and trees.
Looking back to Grand Marges
I caught a couple of distant glimpses of more wild boar and I could hear them in the trees but no close encounters. When I reached the road I came out into the open and it was already hot even though it was only just after 9am.
Looking along to where I needed to go
Plein Voir peak
I reached the start of the path back along the upper slopes of the gorge where there were several signs. My french is not great but even I can get phrases like “sentier ferme” and “tres dangereaux”. B*llocks! I pondered the alternative of a 5 mile walk along a busy road and decided in my usual reckless manner that it would be fine – “what’s the worst that could happen” – so I set off anyway. The start of the path was broad and sunny with hundreds of butterflies to keep me company.
Accompanied by wildlife
Very quickly the path went very narrow and the slopes above and below me got steeper and steeper. The path had been well-marked out with yellow paint splashes – helpful you’d think – if only it wasn’t within a pantones breadth of the colour of the lichen that covered every rock. I had several moments wondering where the path had gone, retracing my steps and by luck or judgement finding the path again. It clearly wasn’t a well used path, it was overgrown and extremely prickly, shorts were not the right attire. As a progressed I became uncertain about what might be around the next bend that might be the reason for the path closure. An unstable scree slop. A landslip with no way across. There were several “sentier difficile” sections on the map. The drop to the gorge was precipitous, the cliffs above impenetrable. On top of all that it was fiercely hot. I was uneasy.
The path traverses the rock ridge on the near skyline on the left
Well, for anyone expecting a tale of thrills, daring escapes and near-death experiences I’ll have to disappoint you. Other than the nagging feeling I might have to retrace my steps and walk along the road and ever-increasing temperature, the walk was enjoyable. There were several sections of exposed scrambles and traverses around the numerous rocky ridges and promontories where a slip would have been nasty and some major scree slopes to cross but they were all well-marked and easy to follow.
Not as terrifying to cross as it looks
The situations and views were magnificent and still I had it to myself although that enhanced my sense of unease at times.
The narrow defile of the lower gorge
The only moment of alarm came when I paused to check out where the path had gone and became aware of stonefall in the vicinity. While I looked around to see where it might be coming from I heard the very scary whizz of a small piece about the size of a tennis ball as it missed my head by a couple of feet. I legged it until I was sure I was away from the danger zone. Had it hit me on the head…………..
I had a sit down and a snack to calm my nerves before I pressed on through the impressive Cirque de Vaumale perched high above the part of the gorge we’d been along in the pedalo the previous week.
"Where the kayaks and the pedalos play"
The views were still tremendous. The final climb of 200m back to the car were in the full glare of the sun and was punishing. I reached the car with a mix of satisfaction and relief. The section above the gorge had been a little tense at times but as I look back now I wonder why I made such a fuss. Possibly my lack of familiarity with the terrain, possibly the isolation. As I sat by the car I realised I hadn’t seen a single person all day – well morning anyway
Path crosses the terrain on the left
Satisfied that I’d seen the “real” Verdon Gorge I headed home for a cold one by the pool
A few photos, videos clips and memories from our several days spent by the pool at our French holiday home. My waterproof Panasonic FT3 camera really came to the fore and I have to say I’m pretty pleased with the underwater work. Some great memories recorded for posterity
Drowning with style
Here there be monsters
Both L and D come on leaps and bounds with their swimming over the past 12 months. L in particular is a proper child of the water now
Sets the new record.......
...... but easily beaten
A great time was had with the ample supply of inflatables on offer
Spot the Dragon
Even Jane joined in the fun
For my part I became obsessed with Pool golf, a great idea where you pitch velcro covered balls onto a floating green
Taking it WAY too seriously
Much harder than it looks and keeps you cool when you have to jump back in and retrieve the balls
"Get in the hole!"
Jane was hopeless at it
"Get in the Pool!"
L also takes her dolls into the pool, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they are joining in the fun or drowning
L, Jessie and Isabelle
Learn to swim the L way
The adults of course need some quality relaxation time
We spent the majority of our 2 weeks just lazing by the pool and having fun and I have some great family memories from those days that I’ll treasure forever. Sometimes the simplest days can be the best
D in his element
L in hers
Putting the video together helped me come across one of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time, the wonderful Barracudas! Bit family self-indulgent but some bits might bring a smile or an “aaah”